Motion-picture: Birth of a Nation stumbles; Marvel, Star Wars announce new castings

The box office did not bring good news to The Birth of a Nation in its opening week. The film, surrounded by controversy, did not see a stellar debut, though holdovers The Magnificent Seven and Queen of Katwe are still pulling money in their third weeks. One could say the same thing for the Busan Film Festival, Asia’s biggest film festival, which is being marked with boycotts for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, several big franchises announced new castings for people of color, and David Oyelowo has some statistics to tell us about. For these stories and more, read on:

Box office: Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation is not off to a promising start at the box office. The picture hauled $7.8 million in its first wide release weekend, placing sixth for the weekend. Its box office performance could have been knocked off the tracks by Parker’s lingering rape allegations, and opening up against Emily Blunt’s thriller The Girl on the Train, which trucked its way to first with $26 million this weekend. Screens are also closed due to Hurricane Matthew. Critics enjoyed it, giving it a healthy 79% approval rating.

In its third weekend, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven is holding up well. The movie finished fourth this weekend to the tune of $8.9 million, bringing its total earnings to $75.7 million in three weeks. A remake of the 1960 classic, the western was Fuqua’s biggest debut of his career. Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe is still circulating in the top ten, earning an overall disappointing $5.4 million total in three weeks of wide release. 

Action: Several big franchises had casting announcements this week. Robert Rodriguez, one of our top ten directors of color, will be directing a live action adaptation to the manga Alita: Battle Angel. The film will star Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) as the titular character, a cyborg in the 26th century who becomes a bounty hunter while looking for clues of her forgotten past. The film will also star Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming), Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage), Ed Skrein and Keean Johnson. Shooting will begin this month in Austin, Texas.

Princess Leia might have some competition. The shortlist was revealed for the actress to play the female lead opposite Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo in the character’s upcoming anthology spinoff movie. The three actresses named were Zoe Kravitz (the Divergent series and Mad Max: Fury Road), Tessa Thompson (Creed and Dear White People) and Naomi Scott (Power Rangers and the TV series Terra Nova). In addition, Atlanta’s Donald Glover is rumored to be the frontrunner to play Billy Dee William’s Lando Calrissian.  

Speaking of Star Wars, The Rogue One’s Forest Whitaker is the latest actor to join the Marvel universe. The Butler actor will star in Black Panther, which is set to bow in February 2018 starring Chadwick Boseman’s superhero/new king of fictional kingdom Wakanda. Daniel Kaluuya and Florence Kasumba have also joined the cast which already includes Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira. Ryan Coogler, who directed Fruitvale Station and Creed, will helm the picture.

Documentary: Someone else from The Butler has also secured their next project as well. Lee Daniels, Butler’s director, is back on board to direct a biopic about standup comedian Richard Pryor, called Richard Pryor: Is it Something I Said. Jay Z is on board to produce. Mike Epps will play the famous comedian with Oprah Winfrey portraying his grandmother, who ran a brothel. This will be Daniels’ first film since Butler in 2013, and he currently serves as a show runner for Empire. Shooting will begin early next year.

Drama: The Birth of a Nation actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. will lead a star-studded cast in the upcoming drama Monster. Oscar-winning Jennifer Hudson and recording artists A$AP Rocky and Nas will also appear in the film, along with Jeffrey Wright, John David Washington, Jennifer Ehle and Tim Blake Nelson. Bron Studios, Tonik Productions and John Legend’s Get Lifted production studio will all produce the film. The film follows Harrison Jr.’s character, a young aspiring filmmaker, who is accused of a crime he says he did not commit. It will be director Anthony Mandler’s feature debut.

Awards/Festivals: Boo Junfeng was among many filmmakers awarded at the Busan International Film Fesitval (BIFF) this week. This is the 26th anniversary of Asia’s largest filmmaking event. Junfeng won the Rising Director Award for his drama film Apprentice. Only the Singaporean director’s second feature, the film follows the relationship of a correctional officer and a chief executioner at a maximum security prison. The movie has screened in theaters across the world, though has yet to come to the states.

The film festival has been met with boycotts and protests for the third year in a row, ever since the festival screened a government-criticizing documentary about the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014. Train to Busan, a massive hit in Korea, rejected a screening request at the festival. Four major filmmaking groups, including the Directors’ Guild of Korea, are boycotting this year’s festival. Kicking off Thursday, the festival will screen almost 300 films from 70 different countries. Lu Zhang’s Korean drama A Quiet Dream opened the festival. It will run from October 5 to 16.

Actor David Oyelowo called for more diversity in UK films at the British Film Institute London Film Festival. The actor stars in A United Kingdom, Amma Asante’s third feature that opened the festival. Oyelowo cited research that stated 59 percent of films in the UK in the last decade contained no roles for black actors. He also noted that only 13 percent of movies featured a black actor in a lead role. “Please stop this talent drain. You have to change the demographic of the people who are making these decisions,” the actor said.